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July 2017. Interview by Marelise Jacobs. Photographs supplied by Plug Music Agency.
Photo credits: Front page photograph by Charl Pretorius. Above photograph by Daniel Craig Johnson. Insert photograph below by Ina Bohnsack.

Neil Breytenbach is not only the long-time keyboardist for the multi-award winning rock band Prime Circle, he is also an incredibly talented songwriter and producer. Always busy writing music, Neil has now created Cantrel - a project where he will be producing his own music while inviting new and up-and-coming vocalists to join on his songs. Marelise Jacobs spoke to Neil about Cantrel's latest single 'Tough Life' as well as the story behind his most recent tattoo done by Wildfire's Manuela Gray.

The name Cantrel, what does it mean and when did you start thinking about doing the project?

Neil: I am a huge fan of Alice in Chains. Their lead guy was Jerry Cantrell, so I kind of borrowed his surname to start this project. Another reason is one of the meanings behind the word ‘Cantrell’, spelt with two L’s, is to be bold, independent, inquisitive and know what you want and why you want it. This basically resonates very well with me and is a strong statement. I Like the name. The project started about two years ago, I am always busy writing music and it is the kind of music that doesn’t go towards the Prime Circle side, it is more things that I do in my spare time.

You are still a full member of Prime Circle, not going solo?

Neil: No, not at all, I’m not going solo. This project got started because I am always busy writing music and it is the kind of music that I think the world needs to hear. It would be sad if it only existed on a hard drive in my studio at home. It is a different side of expression, different type and different style of music than Prime Circle is doing. So no, I am not leaving, I am real happy in the band, it is just a cool side project to keep the musical side of my brain busy, you know?

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The latest single 'Tough life' is really cool song. Will that be the direction you are going for the other singles?

Neil: A couple of other songs are in the same vein as 'Tough Life' but there will be a mix of different styles. Future songs will be more in line of an Alternative Electronic Pop style with a lot of inspiration coming from artists like Crosses and Fort Minor.

How do you choose the vocalists that you collaborate with and why did you choose Velosity?

Neil: Velosity is just an incredible rapper. He is a totally new guy so nobody knows about him. The whole point as well of the Cantrel Collective is pretty much giving people opportunity who are not already famous. I wanted to give these guys a platform via live music or recorded music. Velosity is a really great rapper who has a day job and is also a good friend of mine. That is how I came about with Velosity and the Cantrel Collective but most of the singers that I do choose are friends of mine who haven’t had that platform yet.

“...The whole point as well of the Cantrel Collective is pretty much giving people opportunity who are not already famous. I wanted to give these guys a platform...” - Neil Breytenbach, creator of Cantrel.

As producer, and songwriter specifically, what is the songwriting foundation of your music?

Neil: I write songs on what people are expressing and feeling from day-to-day and trying to touch them in a different way by saying 'Hey this is exactly what I’m feeling today', and a lot of people can relate to that. 'Tough life' is pretty much about life being so tough at times and people having to push through and get through it. That is the lyrical process, using day-to-day experiences. As for the music itself, it is what I am feeling at that point, at that time of day, and that is what will come out musically in the song.

You have a beautiful new tattoo, what is the idea behind that?

Neil: It was done by a lady called Manuela Gray from Cape Town at Wildfire Tattoo Studios. She has been a friend of mine for many, many years and helps me design my tattoos. I have writing on my arms that say Only the Strong Survive, Walking Like a One Man Army, very positive, strong kind of statements that I am trying to put together. The Indian tattoo is a concept she came up with for a sleeve that I am busy with on the right hand side and she is putting together this whole story behind it.